Monday, 16 April 2012

Finding the "Aggressive" Gene

Student No. 42876036


What a morning I’ve had! Let me explain. My alarm went off at 6 am! It has this really bad beat. Maaa, maaa, maaa, maa. I was hitting it but it wouldn’t go off so I thought “to hell with that” and chucked it out the window. Then I found out there wasn’t any raisin toast so I was like “nuh” and punched the wall in. Then I couldn’t find my car keys. Luckily the cat was there to vent my anger on. I’m sure many of you males can identify with this sort of behaviour too.

The good news is we may have an excuse for our bellicose behavior. That’s right! We have a gene that may MAKE us “aggressive” under stress.

This gene, this bad boy, is on our Y chromosome and has been dubbed the SRY gene. Now guys, before you think anymore about punching me for using fancy jargon, SRY simply means the Sex Determining Region. And here’s the story in simple terms.

This gene was originally thought to only affect the maturing of male sex characteristics while in the womb. But real cool research has shown that the proteins transcribed by this gene are to be found all over the body, including the liver, heart, brain, kidneys, adrenal glands…anywhere with hormones relating to stress. Scientists Dr Joohyung Lee and Professor Vincent Harley from Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne believe the SRY gene is responsible for creating high levels of stress characterized by adrenaline release, blood pressure increase, and the quickening of the pulse – all of which may eventually lead to fist fighting.

Lee and Harley cite the work done by others to show females generally get rid of stress by adopting a gentler “tend and befriend” response. Yes, instead of punching their fist in their hands, females try and reduce tension by seeking the support of others.

So what has caused this genetic difference between males and females? The answer is evolution. The females cared for the children and this was helped along by the preponderance of the hormones oestrogen and oxytocin (the “love” hormone). On the other hand, males were out fighting each other for limited resources and to help protect their families. Having to display aggressive behaviour constantly, would have prompted the SRY gene.

Unfortunately in today’s modern society, this gene has created problems. Consider the Australian crime rates with 88% of convicted criminals in the Higher Courts being males, whilst only 11% are females. We guys want to be famous, not infamous - so hopefully social policy can be formulated that considers this genetic research.

This research may also make a positive contribution to medicine in areas of Parkinson’s disease, autism, and schizophrenia which males have a greater predisposition to.

Finally, we guys are going to have to practice patience as scientists continue research into this area, to prove their theory beyond doubt. But you can be sure male scientists in particular will be aggressively researching this important aspect of genetics.

Lee and Harley’s Full journal article can be accessed: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/doi/10.1002/bies.201100159/

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